Physics Spotlight

January 2017
Photo of Professor Chen Wang

Chen Wang

Ph.D., Cornell University (2012)

We have chosen Professor Wang to participate in this month's Professor Spotlight. This is due to the fact that he is one of our new faculty members and we thought this would be a great way to get to know him. Professor Wang specializes in Condensed Matter Physics, with a focus on superconducting quantum circuits. Please take a moment to review Professor Wang's website here.

What is your professional background? What did you major in and where? Where did you go to graduate school and for what? How can your educational background help you teach and mentor students at UMass?

I am an experimental physicist. I majored in physics in Peking University in China from 2002-2006. I went to graduate school at Cornell University and received my Ph.D. in 2012. I then spent four years as a postdoctoral associate at Yale University before I joined UMass. Over the years I have experienced quite a few different research fields and styles, which may be helpful in mentoring students with different interests and strengths.

Why did you decide to go to graduate school? How did you decide which grad school to go to? What advice would you have for a student who wants to go to graduate school?

For me, the path of going to graduate school and possibly pursing a research career were already pretty clear by high school. I really enjoyed success in physics competitions and the "aha" moments when I was able to independently "rediscover" physics principles. I went to Cornell because it offers one of the strongest Ph.D. programs in physics, especially in low temperature and mesoscopic physics, which I am interested in. My advice for a student aiming for graduate school is to work on solid fundamentals – physics concepts and problem solving skills. It is also important to talk to various researchers to gain an overall idea of open challenges and active research directions.

What is your advice for a student who wants to go to industry?

I think physics students can be very adaptive to many industries because of the training they receive on various analytical skills. Students who want to go into industry should first show skill in terms of success in their physics or related programs. Secondly, it is important to figure out an industry they would like to target and develop the desirable skills of that industry, possibly through courses or internships. For those who just want to try and maximize job prospects in general, becoming a good programmer will never go wrong.

Briefly, explain your research:

Making fully-engineerable solid-state devices (such as electrical circuits) that behave quantum-mechanically (like atoms) and allow full control of the quantum states.

See my latest experiment of Schrodinger-cat-like state of microwave photons in two boxes featured as a (top-10) runner-up to "Physics World 2016 breakthrough of year":

http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/news/2016/dec/12/ligo-gravitational-wave-discovery-is-physics-world-2016-breakthrough-of-the-year

What class in the undergraduate curriculum is closest to your research?

Quantum mechanics, Electrodynamics, and solid state physics. I think it would be nice to introduce a 500-level course on quantum information.

Will you take undergraduates in your research group? What type of work will they do? Have you published any papers with undergraduates?

I am interested in taking undergraduates in my research group. They can design devices via analytical and numerical methods, build DC and RF circuit components, set up vacuum/cryogenic systems and measurement instruments. I have not published any paper from my new lab yet (as it is still being set up), but I had published papers as an undergrad myself.

What class(es) will you be teaching next semester? Is it related to your research? If so, in what way?

I will be teaching the sophomore modern physics lab (Physics 286) next semester. The topics of the experiments are not directly related to my research, but this is an important course where students are introduced to systematic experimental protocols and laboratory reports.

What do you do outside of physics? Do you have a hobby?

I occasionally play pick-up basketball and enjoy competitive computer gaming.

What kinds of equipment do you plan on buying for your new lab?

Our lab will have a cryogen-free dilution refrigerator capable of reaching a temperature of 10 mK with large samples space. There will be a lot of microwave electronics (typically working at 1-10 GHz) such as network/signal analyzers, arbitrary waveform generators, various signal generators and amplifiers, mixers, circulators, etc. We plan to make use of various facilities on campus such as the Conte Nanotechnology Cleanroom and equipment for microwave circuitry in the ECE department. We may also set up some of the fabrication and electrical characterization tools of our own.

How was your first semester at UMass? Do you have any experiences you'd like to share from your first course?

My first semester at UMass went well. I taught about my research field of superconducting quantum circuits under the umbrella of mesoscopic physics, and I hope the students enjoyed it as well. It would have been better if I had the time to organize all materials in a properly written form.